Back in Ernest Hemingway’s day, Martinis didn’t just come by the glass; they came by the pitcher. And if you were in the company of Hemingway, they came dry, shockingly cold and often.
According to To Have and Have Another by Philip Greene (an extensive and incredibly entertaining book that examines and celebrates all of the cocktails throughout Hemingway’s life and works), Hemingway often wrote about his preferred Martini method. His preferred gin was Gordon’s 94-proof (which is, sadly, unavailable in the U.S., but Greene recommends Tanqueray instead), and his dry vermouth was Noilly Prat. In place of olives or a lemon twist, Hemingway garnished his Martinis with cocktail onions (meaning his Martinis were actually Gibsons) or thinly sliced onions. But the most important thing for the grizzled writer was the temperature of the drink. It was essential that the cocktail was extremely cold. According to Greene, Hemingway said that if made right, a Martini should be “so cold you can’t hold it in your hand. It sticks to the fingers.”
To make his extremely chilled Martinis, Hemingway came up with a few smart hacks. In a 1947 letter from Cuba to his publisher Charles Scribner, he wrote, “We have real Gordon’s Gin at 50 bucks a case and real Noilly Prat and have found a way of making ice in the deep-freeze in tennis ball tubes that comes out 15 degrees below zero and with the glasses frozen too makes the coldest Martini in the world.” He also froze the cocktail onions so the drink stayed cold for as long as it took him to drink it—which, to be fair, probably wasn’t that long.
Here’s how to make an extra-cold pitcher of Martinis like Ernest Hemingway.